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Booze and smoking lobby groups pile pressure on SA govt to lift ban

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Booze and smoking lobby groups pile pressure on SA govt to lift ban

This argument for the unbanning of liquor and cigarettes, recently reiterated by the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) shadow Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Dean Macpherson, continues to be a flash point of national debate.

South Africa’s ban on tobacco and alcohol — aimed at easing pressure on the country’s healthcare system — continues to have a devastating impact on the country’s economic prospects.

Coinciding with looming legal action — with British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) heading to the Western Cape High Court to argue for the sale of cigarettes and the Restaurants Association of South Africa (Rasa) proposing a district-based approach to alcohol consumption — the DA has called on government to put an immediate stop to the prolonged prohibition.

As the government begins to reopen most sectors of the South African economy — according to a balanced approach which assesses the need to save both lives and livelihoods — the science behind the alcohol and tobacco ban has come under fire, with surveys around the latter burning holes in the National Coronavirus Command Council’s (NCCC) fundamental arguments.

Macpherson cites counter-arguments for “nimble” alcohol regulations made by Glenda Gray, President of the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), who, while tasked with advising the government on a scientific approach to lockdown restrictions, had an infamous spat with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

The government recently decided to reinstitute the alcohol ban, citing a massive surge in booze-related trauma incidents which piled pressure on healthcare services. Macpherson says that this argument has been disproven by Gray, adding: “In a polite way, Dr Gray is saying that there is no longer any use for the ban and that we must ‘look at livelihoods’ as she put it.

“Dr Gray has further stated that there has not been the excessive pressure on hospitals which is what we were told the second ban was needed to avoid. “For a government that has proudly proclaimed that it is ‘led by science’, throughout this national lockdown, President Ramaphosa has seemingly gone out of his way to prove the very opposite.”

Macpherson added that the renewed ban had backed industry stakeholders into a corner, with the burgeoning black market trade ready to capitalise where law-abiding business owners and citizens feared to tread.

Similarly, the blanket ban on the sale and purchase of cigarettes — which has been in place since lockdown was first instituted in late March — has cost government billions of rands in uncollected excise duties.

It’s estimated that for every day South Africa has languished under lockdown, state coffers have been unable to absorb R35 million which has since been funnelled into the illicit trade. Macpherson added: “The ban on tobacco products has only led to cigarette smugglers becoming obscenely rich . . . criminalising South Africans for buying cigarettes.”

The NCCC, led by Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Ramaphosa, has defended both bans before judges and the media, recently hitting back at BATSA with evidence from a “peer-reviewed journal” which determines the tobacco ban as “necessary”.

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